Favorites from the Warner Archive Collection

Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, Garbo, and Chevalier and MacDonald are featured in my year-end round-up of MOD classics from warnerarchive.com.

Fearless (1993)

A stunning Blu-ray for the 20th anniversary of Peter Weir’s gem about rebirth after a near-death experience. Jeff Bridges has arguably never been better as a San Francisco architect transformed after a plane crash, taking risks and enjoying life to its fullest. A spiritual gem, perfect for this time of year, scripted by Rafael Yglesias from his novel and shot by Allen Daviau.

A Guy Named Joe (1944)

A terrific combination of World War II propaganda and celestial love story with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne, directed by Victor Fleming and written by Dalton Trumbo. Based on the legends that pilots never die, daredevil Tracy returns after a fatal crash to play guardian angel to Van Johnson while still very much in love with soul mate Dunne.  A favorite of Steven Spielberg’s, which he remade as Always, but the cultural magic of Joe remains firmly planted in its era.

The Half Naked Truth (1932)

A hilarious pre-Code riff on Pygmalion directed by Gregory  La Cava and starring fast-talking Lee Tracy as  a carny barker who tries to turn hooch dancer Lupe Velez into a Broadway star. The screwball antics never cease, and Frank Morgan shines as a neurotic Ziegfield-type producer.

The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

This bizarre comedy/fantasy pairing Jack Benny with director Raoul Walsh was a misfire in its day and the butt of many Benny jokes. But it survives as a twisted version of Here Comes Mr. Jordan with Benny as a trumpeter who falls asleep and dreams about trying to save Earth by ushering in Armageddon with his instrument.  Yet the befuddled Benny is thwarted at every turn, especially when fallen angels Allyn Joslyn and John Alexander fight to keep the party going. Also co-starring Alexis Smith, Reginald Gardiner, Guy Kibbee, and Franklin Pangborn.

Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years

Long before rap, there was the hilarious rapid-fire nonsense and schizo pantomimes of Danny Kaye, who got his start in movies with producer  Samuel Goldwyn. This set contains his initial comedy classics: Up in Arms (1944), featuring Kaye’s debut alongside Dinah Shore as a hypochondriac war hero; Wonder Man (1945), with Kaye playing twins (one of them a ghost) and paired for the first time with Virginia Mayo; The Kid From Brooklyn (1946), in which meek milkman Kaye becomes world boxing champion (again with Mayo); and A Song is Born (1948), Howard Hawks’ Snow White-inspired remake of Ball of Fire, this time with a jazz flavor as Mayo sweeps professor Kaye and several other professors off their feet.  Highlighted by the performances of Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, and Benny Carter.

The Merry Widow (1934)

The famous operetta gets the legendary Ernst Lubitsch touch (with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, of course). It’s his last musical and a goodbye kiss to the pre-Code era as well. Scripted by Ernst Vajda and the director’s best collaborator, Samson Raphaelson, this is the epitome of refined, risque fun.  Co-starring Edward Everett Horton, Una Merkel, and Donald Meek.

The Painted Veil (1934) 

Making its DVD debut is the loose adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s tale of sin and redemption, sex and suffering with the divine Greta Garbo (looking gorgeous, as always, in an array of gowns by Adrian). She’s caught in a love triangle in Hong Kong with repressed husband Herbert Marshall and bon vivant George Brent. Directed by Richard Boleslawski with his usual charm and elegance.

 

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music

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